Imagine….Mountaintops bathed in sunlight
This was the case, one fine sunny day in our marina, as I sat on the deck of our sailboat sipping a cup of coffee, wondering what I should do with today’s allotted sixteen hours of free time.
My friend and neighbor spotted me wasting my time and stopped over to tell me the story of her friend, Suzie.
It turned out that Susie is a sweet, Mexican lady whose luck had gone awry. Her husband lost his job and is somewhere in the southern Baja taking care of their boat, unable to pay their bills. She had to return to her mother’s home, in our town of Ensenada, because of a family illness and try to make some money to send to her husband.
Seeing that I was filled with compassion, my friend continued. Suzie, the poor thing, used to sell tamales to the boaters and was trying to restart her business, and, my friend added, it would be wonderful of me to help her.
Of course, my friend would be happy to do it herself, she said, but she just didn’t have time and all I needed to do was take orders once a week and call Suzie with them.
Sounded easy enough, I thought, and feeling very sorry for Suzie and considering it might be time for me to give back something to other people, I agreed to lend this poor woman a hand.
I felt good about myself and immediately dubbed my part of the business, ‘Margo’s Tamale Delivery Service.’ I should also mention that I had no idea what tamales were.
My friend brought Suzie and her mother to my boat the next day to seal the deal and explain what I would be selling. We decided that I would call Suzie on Saturday with my orders and she would deliver them on Monday. She also agreed to give me two free tamales for my efforts. Since, as an American Citizen, I am not allowed to make any money in Mexico, I thought this payment hedged around the law quite nicely.
Tamales, by the way, are corn husks filled with meat, either chicken or beef, and an olive and sell for twelve pesos, or one dollar and twenty cents each.
My first week didn’t go too well. I began by soliciting my friends and neighbors on our morning net and requesting orders. I started this on Tuesday, and by Saturday, I had orders for thirty of the little devils. Most of the people that called me I didn’t know, so I had to make an Excel spreadsheet with their names, boat slip numbers and how many chicken or beef tamales they wanted.
I spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday trying to call Suzie. She finally answered her phone Sunday evening. Of course, due to her limited English and my limited Spanish, the call took awhile. Tony spent the two days waiting for me, while I called and called and called.
On Monday, Suzie and her mother showed up right on time with a big bag of hot tamales. She insisted that I pay her before we sorted the tamales and figured out what I owed her on her trusty little calculator.
It hadn’t occurred to me to collect the money from my customers when they ordered, so I had to front the money, of which, I had to borrow from Tony.
Cash transactions completed, the next step involved counting out the orders into little plastic bags and, using the labels I provided, labeling each bag with the name of its recipient.
She said she was sorry, but had forgotten my two tamales and requested one of my cigarettes. Her mother chastised me for smoking.
The real fun began after they left. I walked up and down five docks, carrying the little bags, and trying to find the boats that had ordered. Six of my customers weren’t home, so I had to store the tamales in our little refrigerator until they came for them. Tony made room in the refrigerator.
By Tuesday afternoon, I repaid Tony and put our stuff back in the refrigerator, throwing out a couple of things that had not made it through the night.
Okay, so this venture turned out to be a little more than I expected, and certainly, a lot more than Tony expected. All my little business needed was a dose of my expertise at managing.
The following week, I collected my money up-front. That solved one problem. I explained to all my customers that I would leave their order on their deck by three-thirty every Monday, home or not.
I also decided I needed an employee, with a dinghy, to help with the actual delivery process and that would take care of the problem of my swollen ankles from all that walking.
I offered Tony one-half of one tamale to work for me. If you do the math, that is twenty-five percent of my profit on the two tamales I received as pay and, I reasoned, more than fair.
He agreed to work for me and my business officially had an employee. Now all I had to do was make sure Suzie remembered my two tamales.
I patted myself on the back for my wonderful management skills.
I still couldn’t reach her on the phone, and used up a lot of my ‘pay as you go minutes’ on my Mexican phone, so I’d have to think more on that problem.
By the third week, Suzie was hanging out, smoking a half pack of my cigarettes and forgetting the little plastic bags, so I had to supply them.
Tony appeared frustrated and told me he didn’t really like tamales. He also felt he should be compensated for the gas he was using in his dinghy. He said he was considering unionizing my business, so I upped his salary to a full tamale during the negotiation process.
One morning, as I sat crunching the numbers on my Excel spreadsheet, it dawned on me that I didn’t like tamales either. I walked to the bow of my boat, took down my shingle, called Suzie, and informed her I was going out of business. Of course, I did have to leave a message. Tony took me to lunch to celebrate.
By early that evening, Tony had negotiated with the boater in the slip next to us to watch his boat for the six months he would be in Australia. The boater offered him forty dollars a month for his services and he, because he was now unemployed for a total of five hours, accepted the position immediately. What a show-off.
I, too, have plans for the future. I’m going to study salsa dancing and practice on the deck of my boat so I will always look busy.